Title: The Duke She Despised
Author: Alina K. Field
Genre: Regency Romance
The new Duke of Kinmarty has lost everyone who mattered and gained naught but a title, and debt, and an old pile of a castle. When a fetching new housekeeper appears on his doorstep frantic to ready the place for the Yuletide, he seizes the chance for a respite from grieving and pretends to be the new duke’s estate factor.
With her cousin’s children due to arrive from India, a vicar’s widow hides her identity and takes a position as housekeeper to their dreadful uncle, the man who years ago sabotaged her own chance for happiness. Overwhelmed by a castle understaffed and in disarray, she forges a bond with the new duke’s charming but not very competent factor, not knowing that he’s hiding something as well.
When allies become lovers, each senses the truth may rip them apart. Can their love survive when she discovers he’s the duke she despised?
A faint pounding started up. Andrew rubbed at his temple. “Another one of the bloody banging shutters that kept me up all night, do you suppose? Or might that be one of the legendary ghosts?”
George raised an eyebrow. “Or might it be someone at the door?”
Andrew tilted his head to listen, bile rising in him. “I locked Haskill out not a quarter of an hour ago and barred the door. Did the bastard forget something?” He looked around for his castoff neck cloth.
Never mind. If this was Haskill at the door, he wouldn’t risk bloodying the thing when he kicked the man out on his arse again.
Cold air overwhelmed him in the hall, the sort of damp chill oozed by a medieval pile left unheated for years. He wished for his overcoat, flung over a chair in the study, since neither he nor George had brought so much as a groom.
They’d tended their horses themselves as well, and washed in the ice-cold buckets they’d had to carry up. George, though, had managed a shave and fresh linens, the pompous ass.
George wasn’t the one who’d been plunged into despair. George hadn’t just been encumbered with a crumbling castle and a bankrupt estate. George hadn’t just learned he’d lost his only brother months and months earlier to a fever.
Andrew rubbed at his chin. No neckcloth and two days-worth of beard—this had better not be a social caller.
He unbarred the door and yanked the heavy wood open.
In the half-light a woman stood, ramrod straight despite her shivering, swathed in dark wool.
“I beg your pardon,” she said. “I knocked at the servant’s door but no one answered.”
By God, she was an Englishwoman, and she didn’t speak like a servant.
Her wrap slipped, and he peered closer, his interest stirring. She was youngish, and from what he could see, attractive.
“I’m the new housekeeper.”
A blur of dark fur shot through the door and they both jumped.
“I believe that was a cat.” She peered around him.
“I’ve never seen it before.” The bloody thing scurried off toward the bowels of the Castle and out of sight.
“May I come in?” She cleared her throat. “No one is answering the servants’ door.”
A sharp gust of wind blasted him. He apologized, stepping back, watching her enter.
The heavy wrap outlined a shapely woman. She put him in mind of Mrs. Ramsey, Old Horace’s faithful housekeeper for so many years. ’Twas whispered that she had been more than a servant, and perhaps it was true given the old man’s sharp decline after her death.
The new housekeeper placed a valise and a basket on the black and white tile.
“Are these all your belongings, or have you left a driver out in the snow?”
“I walked and—”
“Walked? In this weather?” Either she was of hardy stock, or he’d soon have to call the apothecary to treat her.
“Yes,” she said. “I’ve a trunk at the inn, to be brought up when the weather eases.”
He scoffed. “Next spring, then, perhaps.”
She sent him an arch look and slipped the shawl back from her head, taking a bonnet with it and revealing errant dark locks that curled about her cheeks and dangled on her shoulder.
Her attention traveled over the dark paneling and up to the painted cornice with its scenes of medieval knights and their ladies. She gasped. “It’s astonishing. Like…like a fairy tale castle.”
A fairy tale castle? Was she mad?
The scenes might have once fascinated his childish heart, but he’d outgrown such nonsense.
She leveled a gaze at him. “What is your name, young man?”
His name? He blinked. Young man? He was likely older than her.
A chuckle bubbled up, the first moment of lightness he’d experienced in days. She thought he was a servant. A servant in a fairy tale castle.
Well, well. How would a lackey behave toward an arriving housekeeper?
“Never mind.” She reached for her basket. “Just show me the way to the servant’s—”
He snatched up the hamper. The aroma of stewed meat escaped from under the heavy cloth, making his mouth water. “You must first be introduced. Come along. The duke conducts business in the study.”
Her hand went to her disheveled hair. “I must—”
“You are fine as you are.” As he nudged her along, a beam of light caught her features.
His prickle of interest bloomed into full-fledged awareness. Full lips, porcelain skin, and a determined little chin—his new housekeeper was more than fine, and she spoke like a Mayfair matron. A youngish one. The urge to become better acquainted overwhelmed him.
Except, he was a duke now. Blast it. Why did Evan have to die and leave him this burden?
He reached up to tug his neckcloth and found it missing. Her frown showed she’d noticed, and that made him smile again.
“No one expected a bonny housekeeper.”
Dark eyes glinted at his impertinence.
So much for the letter he’d sent to cancel her hiring. He was keeping her, at least through Hogmanay. “I fear we are all at sixes and sevens here,” he said.
She pursed her lips. “I see that. You’ve lost your neckcloth, your razor, and your comb.”
He squashed another grin. “I’ll just carry this basket along out of the way of the resident mice.”
Those full lips pinched tighter, raising his spirits even higher. She thought he was the duke’s naughty retainer. Well, he could be. He wouldn’t need her around for much longer than a few weeks, and as a footman…no, not a footman. He could play the new factor. A factor could spar with her the way a duke—or a footman, for that matter—never could. He’d do her no harm.
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What inspired you to write this story:
This is a Christmas fairytale that came about from a “what-if” question—what if a lofty duke married someone well below his social status?
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Award-winning and USA Today bestselling author Alina K. Field earned a Bachelor of Arts Degree in English and German literature, but she prefers the much happier world of romance fiction. Though her roots are in the Midwestern U.S., after six very, very, very cold years in Chicago, she moved to Southern California and hasn’t looked back. She is the author of several Regency romances, including the 2014 Book Buyer’s Best winner, Rosalyn’s Ring. She is hard at work on her next series of historical romances, but loves to hear from readers!
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